The Penn Project: Models of a New Era

In 1984, I discovered Irving Penn at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and was amazed by both the simplicity and depth of his work. Irving Penn was one of the twentieth century's great fotographers, known for his arresting portraits and master printmaking. Although he was celebrated as one of Vogue magazine's top photographers for decades, Penn approached fotography in a different manner. Beyond using photography as a means of communication, Penn approached portraiture with an artists mindset and expanded the studio set up to the great outdoors, oftentimes, only using natural light. Like my mother, Penn shot with a Roleiflex TLR camera and an 85mm Zeiss Planar lens. Perhaps that was the connection that made me immediately drawn to him.

I can get obsessed by anything if I look at it long enough. That’s the curse of being a photographer.
— Irving Penn

Penn’s Cinema Curtain was found in Paris and was the foundation of this photographic career. The curtain, mired in stains, rips and texture over time, provides a time capsule for those who have stood before it. I wanted to be a piece of that history.

Fotographer Unknown, Circa 1948 Cuzco, Peru (c) The Irving Penn Foundation

Fotographer Unknown, Circa 1948 Cuzco, Peru (c) The Irving Penn Foundation

I stumbled upon the Curtain during a recent exhibition celebrating Penn’s Centennial at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York City. I viewed the show two times and discovered something different each time.  While people were allowed to view and fotograph selfies in front of the curtain, security would swiftly approach you if you wanted to photograph it alone. That was a “no-no”. Darn!

At the Met sneaking in a Selfie with the famed Penn Cinema Curtain.

At the Met sneaking in a Selfie with the famed Penn Cinema Curtain.

I knew after seeing Penn’s work again that I wanted to invest further in my own fotography equipment. I searched high and low for a perfect curtain of my own and eventually found it. But was it Penns? No.

Somewhere in the midst of the madness of obtaining new studio equipment, a Curtain, my newfound obsession with Irving Penn and recovering from a broken hand, a limited opportunity arose to enable me to do the “Penn Project: Models of a New Era” and I jumped to task.

My next step was to begin contacting those whom I have met in the Cosplay community over the years with hopes they would want to be a part of my Penn Project. At the end of the day, a total of 40 cos-players volunteered. Three days of a grueling shoot schedule in Westchester County and New York City proved formidable as my characters came to life and transformed before me. At completion, the project spans a total of 35 Cos-players, some of which are not named as to their commitment to embrace the Character.

"The Penn Project" is a collection of Cos-players featuring the Cinema Curtain purportedly used by Irving Penn. In the world of Cosplay, the realm is filled with a diverse community driving the social norm to new levels. I wanted to embrace the populace and introduce it to vintage Vogue.

Shot exclusively with an Olympus Pen F and an Olympus M.Zuiko 12 - 40 mm 2.8 lens, the Curtain was reborn to provide a home to classic characters from Samurai Jack's Aku, various Anime & Video games to the Independent film, Worst Case Scenario" by Richard Raaphorst.

A Note on Post Editing: Photoshop was minimally used for exposure corrections, minor burning/dodging where needed, and fixing the bottom of the curtain against the floor when needed.

For more information on Irving Penn, please visit: www.irvingpenn.org